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Month

October 2015

Blog Tour- Luca Veste- #Bloodstream- Guest Post- Secrets and Lies

luca540Welcome to the last stop on the Blog Tour to mark the release of Luca Veste’s third thriller, Bloodstream, featuring DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi, which sets our intrepid detectives on a search for a serial killer who feeds off the lies that can exist in relationships. Here’s Luca’s own take on the world of secret and lies….

“Have you ever lied? Odds are, you have. According to many studies, we lie on average anything from twice a day, to fourteen times a day (dependent on which study has the most people telling the truth!). It has even been suggested by evolutionists that the ability to lie and be deceitful is a part of why we have evolved to the point of domination. Our capacity to deceive is only matched by our capacity to build things none of us really need.

So, we all lie in one way or another. Maybe some of you only tell those little, tiny, miniscule lies which hurt no one and instead make feel better. You know, the standard ones…

Of course you don’t look fat in those jeans.

You were very funny during the party. They all loved you.

I would have punched that giraffe as well… he was definitely about to headbutt one of us.

Then, there’s the bigger lies. The ones we tell as self-preservation. To our boss, to our family. Those lies we tell so as not to get into trouble, or in a bad situation. With those lies, it wasn’t the ones told to those who aren’t really central to our adult lives. For those in relationships, your partner is supposedly central to your life. Yet, it is to them that we will tell similar lies to. This person (or persons) we choose to spend our time with, our lives becoming interconnected with each other. We all have this capacity to lie to these people. A partner we have chosen specifically for the reason that to not do so would somehow make our lives lesser. We’re not forced together by circumstance like our families or bosses. We made a decision to share the most intimate part of ourselves with these people … and then we lie to them. Keep something hidden from them.

lucaThis is an aspect of life which I wanted to explore in the new Murphy & Rossi novel ‘Bloodstream‘. If we are judged on the lies we tell, would any of us survive that examination? If any of our relationships was scrutinised by an outsider, would any of us pass a test of absolute truthfulness and faithfulness?

You may think the small lies don’t really matter. That telling our partners something we know not to be true is only to protect them. Instead, isn’t it more likely that your partner is only looking for reassurance, whilst secretly knowing the truth? Aren’t we taking full part in a lie being perpetuated, allowing it to fester into your relationship, becoming somehow a factor in whether that relationship survives or not?

Is it possible to be in a relationship without lying in some way, or are we predisposed to lie our way through life?

I wanted to explore these ideas and more in the book, seeing how relationships stood up to the test. From those in the public eye, to the more mundane and normal relationships we all know and are a part of. The antagonist in the story has a glamourised version of love and relationships in his head, which he has never fully realised in reality. Anger has festered within him, to the point he now wants to destroy those he deems to fall short of his expectations. If someone in a relationship is holding a secret or lying to their partner, he believes they should suffer.

Thus, would anyone in a relationship survive this examination?

Most of us believe we’re truthful people, but is that really true?

It’s ideas and themes such as these which drive me to write the novels I do. Taking a simple thought and working it over in my mind to create a story. Place characters in situations and seeing what happens next. Using societal issues to drive a crime novel, which I really enjoy doing.

I lie less now. After reading Bloodstream, maybe you will too…”

 

Missed any posts?  Check out the blog tour at these excellent sites

Luca Veste Blog Tour

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Antti Tuomainen- Dark As My Heart

anttiAleksi lost his mother on a rainy October day when he was thirteen years old. Twenty years later, he is certain that he knows who’s responsible. Everything points to millionaire Henrik Saarinen. The police don’t agree. Aleksi has only one option: to get close to Henrik Saarinen and find out the truth about his mother’s fate on his own. But as Aleksi soon discovers, delving into Saarinen and his beautiful daughter’s family secrets is a confusing and dangerous enterprise…

I must confess that aside from Matti Joensuu and Kati Hiekkapelto my knowledge of Finnish crime fiction is a little underdeveloped, so was intrigued to discover a new-to me-writer in this sub-genre of the Scandinavian stable. So how did Dark As My Heart fare? Will I be seeking out Tuomainen’s The Healer as well?

If the fact that I read this book in one night can be testament to how much I enjoyed this one is any gauge, I think we can all safely say that this book was a real hit with me. Dark As My Heart, drew me in from the start with the mournful clarity and simplicity of its prose, and the underlying power of the emotion that Tuomainen expresses in deceptively understated prose. Discovering afterwards that Tuomainen is an established poet reinforced my initial impressions of the lyrical and sensual quality of both the dialogue and imagery that Tuomainen employs throughout. From the inherent appreciation of the natural world, to the intensity of expression that the author affords the gradual unveiling of Aleksi’s turbulent and emotional upbringing in the wake of the loss of his mother, the prose style that Tuomainen adopts is mesmerising. I rarely revisit passages of a crime book after reading, but did on this occasion mainly to marvel at the fluid and lyrical style of Tuomainen’s writing style, from the brevity (though no less affecting) use of dialogue, to particular descriptions of the setting of Saarinen’s rural estate. It was just so satisfying to see such a seamless blend of beautiful language, and well-structured plot working in harmony, which is something that European crime writers seem to excel at. What was also clever was how at times the book also assumed the feel of a stage play with many double-handed scenes that again added to the claustrophobic and emotionally intense feel of the book. Hence, what the reader encounters is a well-balanced blend of poetry, prose and drama which was exceptionally engaging from start to finish.

Aleksi is viewed throughout the book with an overriding compunction to uncover the truth behind his mother’s disappearance, fuelled by a long period of gestation formulating a plan to confront the man he believes responsible. In the case of his character, still waters run deep, with the face he displays to the world masking a deep inner life driven by revenge, and it’s fascinating how Tuomainen so beautifully reveals the dark details of Aleksi’s formative years. Equally accomplished is how Tuomainen sustains such a pitch of intigue and secrecy using a comparatively small cast of characters, and Aleksi’s interaction with them. He is a completely empathetic character, and I’m sure like many readers to come I was completely rooting for him throughout the book, in the face of the deception and manipulation at the hands of the Saarinens. In much the same way as Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or Steffen Jacobsen’s Trophy, Tuomainen uses the character of millionaire businessman Henrik Saarinen, as a foil for his detached authorial view of the impunity with which the rich and powerful ride roughshod over the normal laws of decent behaviour, and Saarinen is the epitomy of this, eemingly untouchable by established means. His daughter assumes the role of the femme fatale of the piece, using her feminine wiles and sensuality to influence and blindside Aleksi, with a particularly unsavoury reveal about her character along the way. The world that Aleksi has infiltrated is morally bankrupt and Tuomainen provides an intriguing study of the base motivations and jealousies that drive human behaviour.

I found Dark As My Heart one of the most compelling, emotionally satisfying and beautifully realised crime thrillers that I have encountered this year. The clarity and deceptively simple style of Tuomainen’s prose is utterly compelling, underlined by his assured use of more than one literary form, and yet with this clever manipulation and lyricism of the language and form of the book, Tuomainen never loses sight of keeping the reader engaged by the central mystery that drives the plot. Wonderful.

(With thanks to Vintage/Harvill Secker for the ARC)

Blog Tour: David Young- Stasi Child/ Guest Post: Top 5 East Berlin Sites + Review

Stasi Blog Tourdavid

Well, today it’s the final stop on the Stasi Child Blog Tour, and author David Young has dropped by Raven Crime Reads to share some info and photos of some must- visit sites in East Berlin, so integral to his debut crime thriller. Then with your interest piqued, read on for Raven’s review of Stasi Child- think you’re going to like this one…

Top Five: East German sights in Berlin

Twenty five years ago this month, the two Germanies – East and West – became one. It seems hard to believe that a quarter of a century has passed. Some fifteen years before that, in 1975, my novel Stasi Child begins – a time when few believed Germany would be reunited in their lifetime. A time defined by the Berlin Wall – known in the east as the Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier or Rampart. It’s already a lost world, yet the ghost of the ironically titled German Democratic Republic (GDR) can still be seen in the eastern part of Germany, and in particular its captivating capital, which – especially in the last century – has been such a crucible of history. These are my top five tips for reliving the GDR on a visit to Berlin …

1. The Berlin Wall Memorial

Reconstructed watchtower at the Berlin Wall MemorialThe Wall is the symbol of all that was bad about East Germany – even though its construction in 1961 had a horrible logic: the GDR’s leaders needed somehow to stem the brain drain from their tiny eastern bloc country into the west. This memorial is sited in Bernauer Strasse – split between east and west in August 1961 – where people jumped out of apartment block windows to try to escape. You can read the harrowing stories of those shot dead in their attempts to flee in a portion of no man’s land that’s been retained, along with an original section of wall and reconstructed watchtower. The opening scene of Stasi Child takes place in St Elisabeth’s Cemetery, adjacent to the memorial.

2. Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial

Internal security in the GDR was the preserve of the Ministry for State Security, more commonly known as the Stasi, and this memorial is site of the main Stasi prison. It’s largely unchanged, surrounded by a barbed wire-topped wall and watchtowers. A visit here is an incredibly moving experience: the guides are usually either former inmates, or relatives of former inmates, with their own personal horror stories of what falling foul of the GDR regime meant. The prison features in the Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others (and also in Stasi Child). If you’re short on time in Berlin, then Hohenschönhausen is a better bet than the former Stasi HQ at Normannenstrasse, though the latter has its highlights (such as a chance to spy on Stasi head Erich Mielke’s private bathroom).

3. ‘Alltag in der DDR’, Kulturbrauerei Museum

Trabi tent at Kulturbrauerei museumThis  is a relatively new museum housed in a former brewery off Schönhauser Allee in the Prenzlauer Berg district – is for me the pick of several in eastern Berlin that seek to depict everyday life in the former GDR (although those in the Palace of Tears – the former border crossing at Friedrichstrasse station – and the privately-run DDR Museum, where you can take a virtual drive in a Trabi, are also well worth visiting). You get a real flavour of day-to-day existence, and it wasn’t all bad. In fact, those who didn’t fall foul of the Stasi had one of the highest standards of living in the eastern bloc. Childcare facilities, welfare, job security, food prices – all put the west to shame, especially in the 1970s when Stasi Child is set, when Britain was riddled with three-day weeks, strikes and an oil crisis. Don’t miss the wonderful letters from schoolchildren imagining what a future GDR might be like.

 4. Museumswohnung, Berlin-Hellersdorf

Kitchen cupboard in the MuseumswohnungSome who brave the seventeen-kilometre drive or U-bahn ride out to this Berlin suburb might be disappointed by the Museumswohnung, but for me it was an unforgettable experience. Only open on Sundays, or by appointment, it’s a former East Berlin flat preserved as a time capsule: nothing more, nothing less. You’ve got all the original furniture, kitchen equipment, books and electrical gadgets. There are smaller displays in the DDR museum or Kulturbrauerei – but this is the real thing, housed in a typical – albeit modernised – GDR concrete slab apartment estate.

5. Waldsiedlung, near Wandlitz

Honecker's HouseNot strictly speaking Berlin, but some thirty kilometres to the north, this ‘forest settlement’ is well worth a trip in a hire car. This was where East Germany’s leaders lived, in comparative – but not ostentatious – luxury. In Stasi Child, it’s the setting where my People’s Police detective, Karin Müller, finally learns from her Stasi ‘handler’ what her case has all been about. It’s now a sanatorium, but in GDR-times was a well-guarded, gated estate. You can either take a guided tour on a road train, or wander round yourself, discovering the former houses of the two Erichs – Honecker and Mielke. Ironically, Mielke’s former home is considerably bigger – but both would be considered fairly modest by western standards.

RAVEN’S REVIEW:

StasiChild_firstlook_540If you still need an incentive to read this book after some brilliant guest posts, reviews and Q&As, I will do my best to further convince you! I’m more than happy to report that the Raven was rather taken with this one…

Constructed around three contrasting narrative viewpoints, the book takes place in 1970’s East Berlin, with the famed wall firmly in place, and the contrast between life either side of it strongly in evidence throughout. A young girl’s body is discovered close to the wall, with the general consensus being that she has taken the unusual step of fleeing from the West to the East, unlike most of her contemporaries. However, as Oberleutnant Karin Müller ( the only female head of a murder squad in the Deutsche Demokratische Republic) and her infuriatingly charming sidekick, Unterleutnant Werner Tilsner investigate further, they come to realise that much darker dealings are afoot. With their every move being monitored by a representative of the Stasi, fundamentally manipulating their remit in the investigation, and Müller’s husband Gottfried also attracting the unwanted attention of the secret police, there is much subterfuge to be undertaken, and angst to be had, by Müller along the way. Additionally, Young incorporates a seemingly unrelated plot involving the restrictive and harsh conditions experienced by a group of youngsters in a notorious ‘Jugendwerkhof‘, ostensibly a home for less well disciplined, or rootless, youngsters to be indoctrinated in the ways of the State. As all three narratives wend their way towards each other, the depth of corruption, control, and conspiracy within this closed society become all too clear.

If, like me, you have enjoyed the Soviet-based crime fiction of authors such as Martin Cruz Smith, William Ryan, Tom Rob Smith or Sam Eastland, this will prove itself an absolute must read. Like the aforementioned authors, Young perfectly captures the socio-political atmosphere of a society in the grasp of a suffocating control of the state apparatus. The fear, suspicion and deprivation encountered by not only Müller and her team and the youngsters at the Jugendwerkhof, but also that of ordinary citizens, is incredibly well depicted, and Young provides an unflinching gaze on the workings of this closed society. He carefully balances the seeming utopia of life beyond the wall in the West, with the harsh and stringent regime of the East, which makes the plight of these citizens all the more affecting as the story progresses. Having only accrued knowledge of this location and period in German history from non-fiction and celluloid representations, it was entirely satisfying to see how well Young crafted the pertinent details into his fictional representation. Ably supported by an engrossing plot, with its varying strands and well-structured premise, this wasn’t just a linear crime thriller, which again added to the satisfaction of this reader.

Likewise, Young’s grasp of effective characterisation was a real bonus. Müller herself was an entirely empathetic and believable protagonist, balancing the problems of her gender, with the importance of her position in the police, and the nefarious individuals seeking to derail and influence her investigation. The interplay between her and Tilsner, both on a personal and professional level, always overshadowed by the demands of her loyalty to her husband, was a real hook throughout, and added a nice frisson to the general gloom and sadness that infuses the story. The character of Oberstleutnant Karl Jager, as a representative of the Stasi was also nicely weighted within the plot, with his shadowy influence and mercurial nature, providing an intriguing and slightly sinister air to the whole affair, in his dealings with Müller and Tilsner.

Similarly to Tom Callaghan’s debut earlier this year, The Killing Winter, set in Kyrgyzstan, it was extremely satisfying to read a book located in a largely unexplored society, within the crime fiction genre. Young has more than proved that his name will be one to watch in the future with this powerful, well-researched and intriguing thriller. A highly recommended debut.

Stasi Child by David Young is out now in ebook. The Paperback will follow in February 2016.

(With thanks to twenty7 for the ARC)

 

A Quick Message From Raven

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Hello one and all!

As some people have noticed there has been a significant hiatus in my blogging and social media participation over the last couple of weeks. Rest assured, I have been reading all your posts via other means, and sharing sporadically, as I have finally had to call time on my antiquated technology (it died), and have just ordered myself a sparkly new laptop.

I’ve tried to work on my tiny tablet, but I am not a small elf with better than average eyesight, so that has not gone well (as I peer at the screen trying to put this message together).

So normal service will resume soon when I will be taking part in this…

stasiblog

And posting reviews for this bevy of criminal beauties…

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See you soon and thanks for your patience…

Collection: A Rocket Malone Mystery

kobbDisgraced ex-cop Steven ‘Rocket ‘Malone makes a living collecting the memories of the rich at the employ of the sinister Infinity Corp. How does he do it? Simple. He cracks open their skulls and yanks out the implanted hardware. It pays the bills. At least, it would if he wasn’t swimming in gambling debts. Called to the scene of a grisly murder, Rocket runs into a small problem. His client’s head is missing, along with the memories it contains. A beautiful woman, a mysterious foreigner, and an eccentric billionaire all believe Rocket can find the missing memories, and each is willing to pay dearly for the information. Finding this dead man’s memories just might be the solution to Rocket’s problems. And if Rocket can’t find the missing head in time? The people who’ve hired him aren’t the sort who take “no” for an answer…

I’d be the first to admit that I do not have the best track record with books that merge sub-genres, but hallelujah, saints be praised, I have been converted. Oh Yes. With the serendipity that arises from random contacts made through social media, Shawn Kobb appeared on my radar, and jolly glad I am too…

Herein lies a seamless blending of hard-boiled crime, absolutely channelling the spirit of Raymond Carver, playing perfectly alongside a distinctly futuristic and disturbing vision of the sinister world of memory mining from implanted chips. As you can see from the synopsis, our erstwhile hero Steven ‘Rocket’ Malone has his work cut out, reuniting an errant head with a body, evading gambling-debt collectors, trying to resist the charms of a femme fatale and -oh- trying not to get killed or swindled by the nefarious individuals also seeking the contents of said missing head, in downtown Washington DC. Yes, as a plot its a little outlandish, a little quirky, and at times very strange indeed, but do you know what? It works. I thought the storyline was great- tightly written, well-structured and totally entertaining, with its pastiche of the gumshoe era, the hardboiled, spare dialogue, and the little clever nuances of the plot which made this a real read in one night book. Also there was a wonderful feeling that perhaps in part to its overall strangeness you really had not a clue how, and if,  it would resolve itself at the end. It was twisty and surprising, with a great sense of the author genuinely enjoying the whole creative process of the book, and taking his readers on a bit of a day trip to Oddityville. Great.

It’s funny and violent in equal measure with a colourful cast of characters, all pulling at, and trying to manipulate Malone this way and that, as he tries to feather his own nest, and keep his own head intact. He’s a really well-formed character, exuding a mix of roguish charm and street smarts, with a nifty line in caustic humour. I loved the interplay between him and Tony Lee, the resident nerd at Infinity Corp, the malevolent Attila The Hun and his henchman Ladykiller Lou, and his seemingly utter powerlessness in the rarefied air of Selene Belle- the resident femme fatale. Not to mention the unerring antagonism between Malone and the local law enforcement, due to his previously chequered career in the police force. Malone is not a popular chap, but makes for a brilliant protagonist, by turns bruised, abused, but never broken, and  bolstered by an entertaining and amusing cast of ne-er-do-wells all the way.

Having recently had a gruelling repetition of grief and angst in my last few reads, this was an absolute tonic. Smart, sassy and entertaining, Shawn Kobb is one to watch. An excellent book, that I very much hope will develop into a series. A return for Rocket please.

Find out more about Mr Kobb here

(With thanks to the author for the ARC)

Blog Tour- James Nally- Alone With The Dead- Review

 

Alone-With-The-Dead-e1443376638467Once again the Raven’s black heart is gladdened slightly by the arrival of a distinctive new voice in the realm of crime fiction. Alone With The Dead is the intriguing and unsettling debut that introduces us to rookie copper PC Donal Lynch, finding his way in his tough, new, chosen profession, but not without a few stumbling blocks in his path. Donal has turned his back on his native home of Ireland, after his ex-girlfriend is convicted of murder. Finding himself employed in a seedy Irish pub frequented by equally seedy and slightly dubious coppers, Donal makes a massive career change, and joins the boys in blue. But Lynch is not all he seems, and thanks to his propensity for seeing dead people, akin to the creepy kid in The Sixth Sense, his involvement in a brutal murder investigation, brings something a little different to your normal cut-out copper. Finding himself manipulated by his brother Fintan, an ambitious news reporter, his mercurial superior officer, ‘Shep’, and susceptible to the comely charms of a certain damsel in distress, Lynch more than has his work cut out…

As a police procedural and the depiction of a keen young officer’s need to climb the career ladder, it worked superbly well. The central murder investigation was brilliantly structured, with a few nifty red herrings, and a surprising denouement, and the attention to forensic detail and the natural progression of a police investigation felt very authentic throughout. Likewise, Nally’s characterisation of Donal, Shep and Fintan, and the alternate loyalty and aggravation that colours their relationship was well played out. This was bolstered further by the real stand-out aspect of Nally’s writing- his use of humour. Few books make the Raven guffaw out loud, but this one did. There are some truly wicked, killer one-liners in this book, that brought a real splash of lightness, to what in other hands could have been a laboured and quite dark police procedural. The depiction of wet-behind-the-ears Donal, his weird pyschiatric nurse housemate Aidan (more of him in the next one please), Donal’s brother Fintan, and the Dick Dastardly figure of Donal’s boss Shep, were all underscored by a series of cutting asides and witticisms that consistently worked, adding a nice line in graveyard humour to the whole affair.

CALLHowever, in the spirit of honesty, and appreciating the author’s need to bring something different to a well-trod sub genre, I did find this a little bit a game of two halves. I just didn’t quite buy the whole ‘I see dead people’ thing in relation to Donal’s character. I thought it was an unnecessary distraction at points from what was a perfectly well-crafted, intriguing, and well-characterised crime thriller. The central murder storyline, the echo of past events, his navigation of the office politics in his chosen career, and a side plot showing his involvement with a woman in an abusive relationship, weighted the plot perfectly. As interesting as the details were about the clinical possibilities of Donal’s ‘special gift’ to commune with the dead, I found it frustrating that such a well-constructed story, with all the necessary features to ensure a successful series, had to bring this trope into play. I did feel that that the need to return to the more ‘spooky’ element of the story was to the detriment and balance of the sub plots involving Eve, Donal’s ex-girlfriend and the abused Gabby, and felt it left them a little rushed or partially unresolved. It really didn’t need it, as the strength of Nally’s writing outside of this strange diversion was more than satisfying, and all of his characters resonated brilliantly within the main plot. Overall though, I would be more than happy to read the next in the series, so even allowing for my grumbles, Nally has come up trumps in my book. Recommended.

You can catch up with the rest of the blog tour at these excellent sites:

AWTD Blog tour

 

 

Brian Freeman- Goodbye To The Dead- Review and Extract

51j+5D8x-UL__SX319_BO1,204,203,200_

It is almost a decade since Duluth said goodbye to its innocence. The city creeps ever closer to the anniversary of the year in which it found itself both gripped by murder and united in terror; and during which the pillar of its community, Detective Jonathan Stride, had his home and heart torn to ribbons by the claws of cancer. Cat Mateo, an orphan with a knack of landing on her feet, has bid farewell to a life on the streets. This once-stray teenager owes her rescue to Stride, the father figure she holds close to her heart. But Cat holds something else to her chest – a secret: the sheer power of which she could not possibly comprehend. A secret that, once out of the bag, will not just viciously scratch at Duluth’s still-healing wounds, but will make Stride wave goodbye to his convictions about the events nine years before, and say hello to his darkest fears…

Aside from Michael Connelly and Jack Kerley, there are few American thriller series where I have committed myself to reading each new book as it arrives. However, having been hooked by Brian Freeman’s Immoral  years ago, I am always happy to be drawn back to downtown Duluth, and to the trials and tribulations of Freeman’s stalwart homicide detective Jonathan Stride and his firecracker police partner Maggie Bei…

Despite my own familiarity with the series, and the characters contained within it, I love Freeman’s ability to so easily hook any new reader in, and this book would be a great place to start. The reason I say that is, that Freeman segues between two timelines, taking us back to the period immediately before the death of Stride’s wife, and how a particularly testing murder case will so resolutely intrude on the present. The balance between both narratives is perfect throughout, providing the reader with not only a more introspective examination of what makes Stride the man he is, but how criminal investigations are not always as clear cut as they seem, and how the sins of the past cannot always stay buried there. Also with the action pivoting between two timelines, Freeman sows small but pertinent details of his characters’ emotional weaknesses and strengths, and how they impact on their personal and professional relationships when put into focus nine years later.

With the police protagonists Stride and Bei being such well-realised characters and so integral to the thrust of the story , I did experience a little irritation at the antics of Cat, and the tendency to slightly simpering neediness of Stride’s current squeeze Serena. Although both these characters have experienced similar problems in the upbringing, I didn’t altogether believe in them, and did find them showing signs of stereotypical behaviour that I have seen oft repeated in fiction writing. However, Freeman’s depiction of Stride’s incredibly touching relationship with his late wife, Cindy, and the characterisation of Cindy herself, helped redress the balance in the female characterisation, and then of course, there’s Maggie Bei who totally dominates every scene she appears in. She is a brilliant character, small in stature, but in possession of a general ballsiness and frankness that will delight and entertain you throughout. And she’s got a soft side too. But not too soft…

I had a few misgivings about the plot, in terms of the use of coincidence as to Cat’s involvement in the whole affair, and the ending was a little contrived, but this can probably be attributed again to too much crime reading on my part. However, there were some nice touches including an ice-cold scheming woman whose character I loved, possibly guilty of mariticide  and her besotted sad act stalker, and the suspicion that arises in the reader as to her guilt or innocence. Did she? Or didn’t she? It’s fun playing detective and trying to work her out, amongst the smoke and mirrors that Freeman employs the way.

So a wee bit of a mixed affair for me personally, but I think the good aspects of this one, more than outweigh the little niggles it produced in me, and I would certainly recommend this as a series that warrants further investigation. Here’s an extract to tempt you in…

PROLOGUE

The Present

Serena spotted the Grand Am parked half a block from the

Duluth bar. Someone was waiting inside the car.

Mosquitoes clouded in front of the headlights. The trumpets

of a Russian symphony – something loud and mournful

by Shostakovich

blared through its open windows. Serena

smelled acrid, roll-your-own cigarette smoke drifting toward

her with the spitting rain. Beyond the car, through the haze,

she saw the milky lights of the Superior bridge arching across

the harbor.

There were just the two of them in the late-night darkness of

the summer street. Herself and the stranger behind the wheel of

the Grand Am. She couldn’t see the driver, but it didn’t matter

who was inside. Not yet.

She was here for someone else.

This was an industrial area, on the east end of Raleigh Street,

not far from the coal docks and the paper mill. Power lines sizzled

overhead. The ground under her feet shook with the passage

of a southbound train. She made sure her Mustang was locked,

with her Glock securely inside the glove compartment, and then

she crossed the wet street to the Grizzly Bear Bar. It was a dive

with no windows and an apartment overhead for the owner.

Cat was inside.

Serena felt guilty putting tracking software on the teenager’s phone, but she’d learned

quickly that Cat’s sweet face didn’t mean she could be trusted.

When she pulled open the door of the bar, a sweaty, beery

smell tumbled outside. She heard drunken voices shouting in

languages she didn’t understand and the twang of a George Strait

song on the jukebox. Big men lined up two-deep at the bar and

played poker at wooden tables.

Inside, she scanned the faces, looking for Cat. She spied her

near the wall, standing shoulder to shoulder with an older girl,

both of them head-down over smartphones. The two made an

unlikely pair. Cat was a classic beauty with tumbling chestnut

hair and a sculpted Hispanic face. Her skinny companion had

dyed orange spikes peeking out under a wool cap, and her ivory

face was studded with piercings.

Serena keyed a text into her own phone and sent it. Look up.

Cat’s face shot upward as she got the message. Her eyes widened,

and Serena read the girl’s lips. ‘Oh, shit.

Cat whispered urgently in her friend’s ear. Serena saw the

other girl study her like a scientist peering into the business end

of a microscope. The skinny girl wore a low-cut mesh shirt over

a black bra and a jean skirt that ended mid-thigh. She picked up

a drinks tray – she was a waitress – and gave Serena a smirk as

she strolled to the bar, leaving Cat by herself.

Serena joined Cat at the cocktail table where she was standing.

The girl’s smile had vanished, and so had all of her adultness.

Teenagers drifted so easily between maturity and innocence. She

was a child again, but Cat was also a child who was five months

pregnant.

I’m really sorry’ Cat began, but Serena cut her off.

Save it. I’m not interested in apologies.’

She stopped herself before saying anything more that she’d regret. She was too angry even to look at Cat.

Instead, by habit, she surveyed the people in the bar.

It was a rough crowd, not a hangout for college kids and middle-class tourists like the bars in Canal Park.

Hardened sailors came to the Grizzly Bear off the

cargo boats, making up for dry days on the lake with plenty of

booze. She heard raspy laughter and arguments that would spill

over into fights. The bare, muscled forearms of the men were

covered in cuts and scars, and they left greasy fingerprints on

dozens of empty beer bottles.

In the opposite corner of the bar, Serena noticed a woman

who didn’t fit in with the others. The woman sat by herself, a

nervous smile on her round face. Her long blond hair, parted

in the middle, hung down like limp spaghetti. She had an all-American

look, with blue eyes and young skin, like a cheerleader

plucked from a college yearbook. Maybe twenty-two. She kept

checking a phone on the table in front of her, and her stare shot

to the bar door every time it opened.

Something about the woman set off alarm bells in Serena’s

head. This was a bad place for her. She wanted to go over and

ask: Why are you here?

She didn’t, because that was the question she needed to ask

Cat.

Why are you here, Cat?’

I wanted to go somewhere. I’m bored.’

That’s not an answer.’

Anna works here,’ Cat said. ‘She and I know the owner.’

Cat nodded at the waitress who’d been with her at the table.

Anna was playing with her phone as she waited for the bartender

at the taps. One of the sailors made a grab for the girl’s ass, and

Anna intercepted his hand without so much as a glance at the

man’s face.

She used to live on the streets, like me,’ Cat told Serena. ‘We’d

hang out together. If she found a place to sleep, she let me crash

there, too.’

I get it, but that’s not your world anymore.’

I’m entitled to have friends,’ Cat insisted, her lower lip bulging

with defiance.

You are, but no one from your old life is a friend.’

Serena knew the struggle the girl faced. Not even three months

ago, Cat Mateo had been a runaway. A teenage prostitute. When

someone began stalking her in the city’s graffiti graveyard, she’d

gone to Duluth police lieutenant Jonathan Stride for help. Serena

and Stride had been lovers for four years, and she knew he had

a weakness for a woman in trouble. They’d helped capture the

man who’d been targeting Cat, and when the girl was safe, Stride

made a decision that surprised Serena. He suggested that the

teenager live with them, have her baby there, and grow up in a

house with adults who cared about her.

Serena said yes, but she’d never believed that it would be easy

for any of them. And it wasn’t.

You’re a sight for sore eyes in this place,’ a male voice

announced.

A man in a rumpled blue dress shirt and loosely knotted tie

stopped at their table. His eyes darted between Serena’s face and

the full breasts swelling under her rain-damp T-shirt. He wiped

his hands on a Budweiser bar towel.

This is Fred,’ Cat interjected. ‘He owns the bar.’

The man shot out a hand, which Serena shook. His fingers

were sticky from sugar and limes. ‘Fred Sissel,’ he said cheerfully.

Sissel was around fifty years old, with slicked-back graying

hair and a trimmed mustache. He wore the over-eager grin of a

man who’d tried to smile his way out of everything bad in life.

Fights. Debts. Drunk driving. His cuffs were frayed, and his shirt

and tie were dotted with old food stains. His face had the mottled

brown of too many visits to a tanning salon.

So what’s your name, and where have you been all my life?’

Sissel asked. The teeth behind his smile were unnaturally white.

Serena slid her badge out of her jeans pocket. ‘My name’s

Serena Dial. I’m with the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office.’

Sissel’s mustache drooped like a worm on a fishing hook. The

sailors at the other tables had a radar for the gold glint of a badge,

and the tenor in the bar changed immediately.

Sorry, officer, is there a problem?’ Sissel asked, losing the

fake grin.

Do you know this girl?’

Sure, she’s a friend of Anna’s.’

Do you know she’s seventeen years old?’

Sissel swore under his breath. ‘Hey, I don’t want any trouble,’

he said.

You’ve already got trouble, and if I find her in this place again,

you’ll have even more.’

Yeah. Understood. Whatever you say.’

The bar owner raised his arms in surrender and backed away.

Serena saw emotions skipping like beach stones across Cat’s face.

Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Anger.

Fred’s a nice guy,’ the girl said finally. ‘You didn’t have to be

mean to him.’

Does he serve you alcohol?’

No,’ Cat said, but Serena didn’t trust her face. She leaned

closer to the girl, and although there was no booze on her breath,

she smelled cigarette smoke like stale perfume on her beautiful

hair.

You’ve been smoking.’

Just one.’

Serena wanted to scream at the girl, but she held her voice

in check. ‘You’re pregnant. You can’t smoke. You can’t drink.’

I told you, it was just one.’

Serena didn’t answer. She couldn’t fight teenage logic. As a

cop, she’d seen good girls make bad choices her entire life. She

knew how easy it was to cross the line. At Cat’s age, she’d been

a runaway herself, living with a girlfriend in Las Vegas after

escaping the grip of a Phoenix drug dealer. Not a month had

gone by in Vegas where she hadn’t fended off the temptation

to gamble, buy drugs, steal, or sell herself for the money she

needed. She felt lucky that the only serious vice she carried from

those days was being a recovering alcoholic. But luck was all it

was. A bad choice on a bad day, and her life would have taken

a different turn.

Across the bar, Serena saw the young blond woman – the

school cheerleader type – grab her phone suddenly and get to

her feet. She was nervous and excited and couldn’t control her

smile. She smoothed her long straight hair and moistened her

lips. If there was a mirror, she would have checked her reflection

in it. She took a breath, and her chest swelled. She headed for

the bar door, but backtracked to retrieve a baby-blue suitcase

from behind her table.

To Serena, it felt wrong. Visitors didn’t come to Duluth and

wind up in this bar on their first night. Her instincts told her to

stop the woman and ask questions. To intervene. To protect her.

Are you going to tell Stride?’ Cat asked.

Serena focused on the teenager again. She knew that Cat was

afraid of Stride’s disapproval more than anything else in her

life. He was like a father to her, and she was terrified of disappointing

him.

Yes,’ Serena said. ‘You know I have to tell him.’

Cat’s eyes filled with tears. She was a typical teenage girl,

using tears to get her way, and Serena worked hard to keep her

own face as stern as stone. Meanwhile, the bar door opened and

closed, letting in the patter of rain from outside.

The blond woman was gone.

It doesn’t matter what you tell him,’ Cat said, rubbing her

nose on her sleeve. ‘He’s going to kick me out sooner or later.’

Her voice was choked with self-pity. She was smart and beautiful

and eager to believe the worst about herself. She looked

for any reason to believe that her life wasn’t worth saving. To

sabotage the second chance she’d been given. That was part of

her guilt over who she’d been.

It has nothing to do with that,’ Serena told her calmly, ‘and

you know it.’

When he was married to Cindy, Stride didn’t want kids,’ Cat

protested. ‘So why would he want me now?’

You’re wrong about that, but even if it were true, it doesn’t

matter. He took you in, Cat. He wants you there. We both do.

What happened in the past, what happened with Cindy, has

nothing to do with who he is today.’

You wish,’ the girl snapped.

The words shot out of her like a poisoned arrow. Funny how

teenagers could always find your weak spot and apply pressure.

If there was anything in Serena’s life that made her feel like an

insecure child, it was the thought of Cindy Stride. It was the suspicion

that Jonny was still in love with his wife.

Still in love with the wife who died of cancer eight years ago.

Cat knew what she’d done. She looked upset now. ‘I’m sorry.

I didn’t mean that.’

But she did. And she was right.

Come on,’ Serena said, shoving down her own emotions. ‘Let’s

get out of here.’

She took Cat’s arm in a tight grip, but then something made

her freeze. A woman screamed. It came from the street, muffled

by the clamor of the bar. She almost missed it. The cry stopped as

quickly as it started, cutting off like the slamming of a window,

but Serena knew exactly who it was. She cursed herself for not

listening to her instincts when she had the chance.

Serena told Cat to stay where she was. She shoved through

the crowd and broke out into the street. Outside, the drizzle had

become a downpour, blown sideways by the wind. The Grand

Am she’d spotted earlier was still parked half a block away, its

headlights white and bright, steaming in the rain. Immediately

in front of the sedan was the woman from the bar, her body

flailing as she fought to free herself from a man who held her

in a headlock.

Serena shouted, and the woman saw her. Soundlessly, in panic,

she pleaded for rescue. Serena marched toward them to break

up the assault, but she’d barely taken a step when a gun blew up

the night. One shot. Loud and lethal. The blond woman’s pretty

face, twisted in panic, became a spray of bone, brain, blood, and

skin. Her knees buckled; her body slumped to the wet pavement.

In shock, Serena threw herself sideways toward the outer wall

of the bar.

The bar door opened, and Cat called out curiously, ‘What was

that? What’s going on?’

Serena yelled with the protective fury of a mother. ‘Cat, get

back inside right now!

Then she was running. She saw a tall man in a hooded sweatshirt,

his back to her as he escaped. The killer. She didn’t stop

for the woman lying in the street. There was nothing she could

do to help her. She charged after the man, struggling to match

his steps, but the pain of the effort weighed on her chest. Rain

soaked her black hair and blurred her eyes. The asphalt was slick.

The man sped into the darkness of a side street that ended in

dense trees, with Serena ten feet behind in pursuit. Matchbox

houses on both sides bloomed with light as people crept to their

windows.

Serena closed on the man when he slipped and lost a step.

The woods loomed directly ahead of them. She knew where she

was; the street ended in sharp steps that led down over a creek

into the grassy fields of Irving Park. She took a chance, and she

jumped. Her body hit the man in the square of the back, kicking

him forward, bringing both of them down. He slid onto the mossslick

concrete steps. She scrambled to her feet and dove for him,

but he was ready for her. He spun around in the blackness and

hammered a fist into her stomach. He grabbed her head. His

fingers drove her chin into the rusty railing bordering the steps,

where bone struck metal. Her teeth rattled as if driven upward

into her mouth. She collapsed to her knees.

He skidded on his heels and jumped down the rest of the steps.

She heard his footsteps splashing into the creek below them. He

was gone, breaking free into the wide-open land of the park. She

hadn’t seen his face.

People from the bar ran toward her, shouting. Somewhere

among them, Cat called her name over and over in fear. Serena

tried to stand, but she was too dizzy, and she fell forward, tasting

blood on her tongue. She was on all fours now. Her hands pushed

blindly around the muddy steps, hunting for the railing to use

as leverage as she stood up. She felt rocks and tree branches

and bug-eaten leaves beneath her fingers, and then, finally, she

brushed against the iron of the railing.

Except – no.

What she felt under the wet skin of her hand wasn’t the railing

mounted beside the steps. It was something else. Something

metal and lethal and still hot to the touch.

When her brain righted itself, she realized it was a gun…

 

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